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SAS bridge financing keeps survival hopes airborne, shares climb

·2-min read
Scandinavian Airlines pilots go on strike

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Scandinavian airline SAS kept its bid for survival aloft at the weekend by securing bridge financing through bankruptcy protection proceedings, sending its shares 5% higher on Monday.

The airline, whose biggest owners are Sweden and Denmark, said on Sunday it had signed a deal with U.S. private equity firm Apollo Global Management for $700 million in financing to fund its reorganisation under U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings.

SAS filed for the protection in July, a day after most of its pilots launched a crippling two-week strike over collective agreements. SAS said the action could scare off lenders and could threaten its existence.

Shares in SAS were up 5.3% at 1358 GMT, taking a one-month rise to 22%. The stock is still down 63% in the past year.

"The price of being on the brink of bankruptcy is high, but now the process is getting going, and the hard work of getting billions in debt dropped and also significantly reducing costs can be accelerated," Sydbank analyst Jacob Pedersen said.

"The reality remains that existing shareholders' assets are gone and that they are exposed to a big dilution when the capital increase is carried out," Pedersen said in a note to clients, reiterating a "sell" recommendation for SAS shares.

Pedersen said the deal with Apollo suggested Apollo could become a major shareholder in SAS by converting the loan to equity at the end of the Chapter 11 process.

A SAS spokesperson declined to speculate on potential new owners, but added Apollo apparently "believes in the company and the company's future".

"One should not speculate who will become owners at the end but it is a possibility, absolutely," said SAS vice-president of Investor Relations Louise Bergström.

SAS, which was loss-making before the pandemic due to rising competition from low-cost carriers, has said it needs to slash costs further and raise more capital to survive.

"We need to convert old debt, we need to take in new capital, so there are still many parts that must fall into place. But we now have a much better chance," said Bergström.

The Swedish government has rejected the plea for more cash but Denmark has said it might write off some debt and inject fresh funds if SAS found support from private-sector investors.

A Danish finance ministry spokesperson said on Monday the government had noted the bridge financing deal and repeated that its support for a rescue plan launched by SAS in February was conditional on the airline attracting new large shareholders.

Copenhagen also wants to maintain influence over a range of decisions to ensure SAS keeps a strong presence at Danish airports, something it says is important for the small Nordic country's economy and to keep good global travel connections.

(Reporting by Helena Soderpalm and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm, Marie Mannes in Gdansk, Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; Editing by Edmund Blair and David Evans)